Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Best Of British

By Shane Thomas

Britain and cycling. People old enough will remember that those two words once went together like Britain and sunshine. But ever since Chris Boardman's gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona (summer) Olympics, there has been a sporting revolution on two wheels in this country.
After the effulgence of London 2012, it wasn't unreasonable to wonder if we had seen the apex of Britain's era of dominance. Sir Bradley Wiggins has eschewed the Tour de France this year, Victoria Pendleton had ridden off into the sunset, and Sir Chris Hoy (with all respect) is not long for the cycling world. So is the sheen about to come off this golden era?

Well, I guess no-one told Dani King, Laura Trott and Elinor Barker. In the World Track Cycling Championships, the trio took gold in the women's team pursuit. In the last six world championships, this is Britain's 5th gold medal at this respective event. 

That's some track record. At last summer's Olympics, Trott and King were teamed with Jo Rowsell (who has since turned her attentions to the road). They turned in arguably the most dominant team display of the entire Games, winning all three races on their way to gold, and breaking the world record three times in the process.

So as the British team went to Belarus for these World Championships, the possibilities of a post-2012 hangover, and the loss of Rowsell to the trio could easily have had a deleterious effect on the group. But after their gold medal in Minsk, Trott and King were asked when they last lost a race. The normally garrulous duo were silenced by this question. They looked at each other blankly for a few seconds. The answer is February 2011.

That's one of the most remarkable things about this team. What do you do after winning at the Olympics? You win again. And again. And again. The culture of excellence in British cycling has become an inveterate habit for them. 

The rules of the team pursuit have now changed, with it now being competed over 4km rather than 3km, and with four riders rather than three. Britain's women have ended the three-person programme as its champions for perpetuity, and even though Rowsell seems to be busy with road cycling for the time being, the thought of her putting the band back together, with Barker in tow is a mouthwatering - if unlikely - prospect for British cycling fans. They would be... unbeatable?

Well, no. Because as a trio, they're already unbeatable. What must also be remembered is the youthful ages of the cyclists. Trott (who I think could end up as Britain's greatest ever cyclist) is 20. King is 22. Barker is only 18 - she's still to complete her A Levels. They can probably get even better, yet they've already conquered the world. Dominance and excellence personified. 

Personally I think we should be celebrating these women a lot more than we currently are. As Kanye West once rapped, "If you admire somebody you should go and tell them/People never get the flowers while they can still smell them." 

Find me a better British team in sport right now if you can, but you'll be looking for a while.


I'm breaking a promise to myself by wading into the Oscar Pistorius trial. It's not the case itself that I'm addressing, but the saddening way that the trial has ceased to become about South Africa's justice system, and has devolved into a soap opera for our entertainment.

This was evinced as the presiding magistrate, Desmond Nair granted Pistorius bail. However, before he did so, he elucidated at length his reasons for doing so, taking almost 2 hours. This resulted in a slew of tweets mocking Nair for how long he was taking to reveal whether he would grant Pistorius bail or not. The subtext of these tweets were simple, "We're bored. Skip to the end! Are you going to grant bail or not?"

Oh, poor you. Get me a violin. I wouldn't question that Nair took a very long time. Maybe unusually long. But unless you're a legal expert, how could one say whether this isn't standard procedure, especially for a case as high profile as this?

What does it matter if you found it dull? Since when has the legal process of a murder trial ever been for your entertainment? When the case begins, maybe we should have it on the set of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. We could get the guy who does the voice-over for The X-Factor. Or better yet, the guy who does the trailers for Hollywood action movies. If we're going to turn it into a tawdry circus, we might as well do it properly.

Or maybe we should remember that this isn't fictional entertainment. I'm making no judgement on the case, but the fact is that someone died. Our only reaction to Reeva Steenkamp's passing should be reverence and respect. The tweets from Friday afternoon showed neither.

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